In July of 2007, I arrived in Hong Kong after a 16
hour flight from Newark. It was my first visit to China
since leaving as a baby in 1991.
The scene in Hong Kong International Airport was a
frenzy. I was traveling with my brother, who was 13,
so as minors we were accompanied off the plane by a
chaperone and then handed over to my father's good friend
We were to stay with his family in the bordering city
I have no recollection of my early life in China other
than the few pictures my mother has shown me. From those,
I always thought China looked rather bleak and gray,
or at least my hometown of Xi'an did.
What the pictures failed to show was just the sheer
number of people living in those cities.
During my stay in China, I visited Shenzhen, Wuhan and
Beijing. In Shenzhen, where housing prices are rather
exorbitant, Michael and his family lived on the 16th floor
of his apartment complex.
Overcrowding is especially a problem in the large old
cities like Beijing. While visiting Tiananmen Square
and other prominent sites, I found myself completely
overwhelmed by the crowds visiting these sites even
on a cloudy day.
Since its population boom in the mid-twentieth century,
China has managed to reign in its population growth.
However, it is still an issue as more couples are flouting
the "one child" policy instituted under the
Communist regime. With a large population, competition
for jobs and resources has increased.
According to Michael, for most average Chinese, finding
housing and making rent in the overcrowded cities is
difficult. Rent takes up a large chunk of monthly wages,
leaving little money for other expenses. Therefore,
inflation remains a worry for most people there.
It was a major issue on CCTV during my stay, and even
now, inflation woes still plague the economy, always
threatening China's booming markets.
While the government currently uses price controls
and other open market actions to influence the economy,
in the future it might not be enough to stave off inflation,
which may lead to a rise in price of its exports, affecting
The haves and the have-nots
The country is also full of contradictions. The cities
are modern, but the rural and country areas are not.
The disparity between the upper and lower classes is
appalling. Outside my hotel in Beijing, there were enclaves
of beggars on the nearby streets hoping to find sympathy
in the tourists. People in the poorest rural areas also
don't have access to many products, and even finding
a western toilet is a rare occurrence.
According to the World Bank the income gap disparity
in China may have been exacerbated by a number of policy
features implemented by the Chinese government. For
example, the restriction of rural migration may have
kept a number of rural poor in poverty since they were
denied many of the economic opportunities that the cities
Besides economic issues, China also faces environmental
problems that are already plaguing its citizens. Beijing
has one of the worst air pollution problems. It's no wonder
that many people who live there face respiratory problems
My stay in Beijing was shadowed by the smog that seemed
to engulf the city at times. After coming back to the
hotel each day, I always felt gritty.
The government has since stepped up the effort to improve
Beijing's air quality for the upcoming 2008 Olympics,
I highly doubt it will be enough to make a significant
difference in the air by the time of the Olympics.
While the economy and environment can be seen as daily
problems, politics does not seem to be a major issue to
most. I was unable to really raise the issue of politics
during my trip, but people I did meet were more preoccupied
with day to day concerns than whether or not they could
express political dissent.
The few young people that I met on my trip seemed more
interested in chatting online with their friends than
Rather than worrying about internal politics, they
seemed more concerned with how the world would view
China at the 2008 Olympics, which is now seen as a source
of national pride and China's 'coming out' party.
I am hopeful of China's future, but the government
needs to embrace and use the strength of its people.